The Hunger Games

23 Mar

To see or not to see? That is the question. It all began a couple of months ago. Two of our children, who are in grade 7, were reading this book called The Hunger Games in school. They were both excited about it and there was even talk of a field trip to see the movie when it came out. I knew nothing about the book, but the little bits that the kids told me were enough to concern me. I decided I should read it myself so I could intelligently discuss it with them. I was not overly excited about this endeavor, as the concept just didn’t appeal to me, but I thought it would be the responsible, parental thing to do. And then I found out it was a trilogy. Oy.

I read the first book and I have to admit that it was gripping. However, I also found it tense, dark and depressing. I have enough tension and darkness in my life, thank you very much, so I fail to see how this is meant to be entertainment. I read the second book, mostly out of creative curiosity to see how the author could get another whole novel out of the same concept. I shouldn’t have bothered. Spoiler alert: it’s the same story, but with a few rule changes to get the same characters back into the games. I have started the third book, but at this point, I am so bored with the whole concept, I don’t know if I can force myself to finish it.

Those are my thoughts on the books themselves. Next issue: 12-year-olds reading them in school.

I suppose this is not a new debate. I’m sure my generation’s parents had the same discussion when we had to read Lord of the Flies. Maybe I should lighten up. Clearly I wasn’t traumatized for life by it. Then again, I don’t really recall if I ever actually read the whole thing. Still, I am begrudgingly willing to admit that there may be some value in reading something somewhat controversial if it gets kids talking about morals and debating situational ethics.

One Hunger Games movie review I read (from The Reel Breakdown) mentioned the point of view of a middle school teacher: “Her seventh-graders were reading the novel in the school-sponsored book club — and no one was traumatized. What they were doing was discussing the difficult choices Katniss confronts to preserve her family, her friends, and her own skin. And they were reading with interest and relating it to their own lives, which is in itself a very good thing.”

That is a good thing. In fact, my son got his first A+ ever in his life on a paper he wrote comparing The Hunger Games to the child soldier crises in Africa! Maybe these are healthy things to discuss and think about and debate. But I think seeing the movie is a whole different ballgame. Reading the book (or even having the book read aloud to you – but that is a tangential issue that I’m trying to let go of for now) encourages the use of imagination. The reader must take the descriptions of the settings, costumes, and actions from the book and form their own visual images in their mind. This engages the brain and fosters creativity. But those imagined pictures – violent though they may be – do not leave the same lasting imprint on the mind that a tangible, visual, life-like movie image does. Reading about kids killing kids and picturing it in your mind is horrific enough. Seeing it played out by real people in graphic detail on a gigantic screen with blaring sound – that kind of thing sticks in your head for a very, very, very long time. I’m having trouble justifying exposing my kids to that for the sake of a classroom discussion on the similarities and differences between the book and the movie.

They’ve watched other violent movies. I know that. I frequent and thoroughly read the reviews and ratings to see what I think my kids can handle. The Hunger Games has a violence rating of 7 out of 10. So do the Lord of the Rings movies, and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. And John Carter, which my son saw last week for his birthday party, has a violence rating of 6. My kids have watched these movies with my permission. But somehow violence involving mythical creatures, aliens and monsters doesn’t concern me as much. That’s much easier to dismiss as fictional. But this, The Hunger Games, is about human teenagers murdering other human teenagers in brutal and varied ways. That doesn’t sit well with this mama!

But the whole class is going! But it’s only rated PG-13!

So this mama has been reading reviews. By and large, the feedback is hugely positive for two reasons: 1. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the lead character, is brilliant in the role. Whoop-de-do. That has no bearing on whether or not my kids can handle the violence. And 2. It is said to be atypical of the usual Hollywood fare in that the movie adheres very closely to the book. That, for my purposes, is a strike against it. If the reviews were all saying that the movie had completely toned-down the violence and didn’t really show any of the killings, that would be a huge relief for me. So the fact that the fast camera work keeps things moving and doesn’t dwell for long on the individual scary parts doesn’t really seem to be much of a concession.

As Variety puts it, “Any real sense of risk has been carefully ironed out: The PG-13 rating that ensures the film’s suitability for its target audience also blunts the impact of the teen-on-teen bloodshed, most of it rendered in quick, oblique glimpses; whether this is the morally responsible decision is open to debate.” Also of interest is the Vulture review: “The audience at Monday’s packed preview of The Hunger Games came out juiced and happy, ready to spread the good word, while all I could think was, They’ve just seen a movie in which twenty-plus kids are murdered. Why aren’t they devastated? If the filmmakers had done their job with any courage, the audience would have been both juiced and devastated.”

And so, the decision must be made. I’m willing to be the mean parent. Heaven knows that’s nothing new. But is it best to completely forbid the movie or to allow for some compromise? Should I disallow them to go with their class but agree to rent it and watch it together (on a smaller screen and where we have control of the remote)? If I completely forbid it, I know I’m risking their rebellion by watching it at a friend’s house later, in which case we won’t even have the opportunity to discuss it afterwards. Yes, I know this shouldn’t even be part of my consideration, but I also know that it’s a very real (almost definite) possibility for one of our children. Or if I just let them see it, does that set a precedent for the next 2 movies (which are likely to be even worse)?

I don’t know! I just don’t know! I suppose I need to see the movie myself to make a completely informed decision. But the selfish part of me doesn’t want to waste one of our semi-annual date nights on that. So here is my plea: if you have seen the movie already, give it to me straight. Is PG-13 a fair rating? Is the violence blatant and gory or is it somewhat masked and implied? Please, discuss.


Posted by on March 23, 2012 in Family, parenting


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10 responses to “The Hunger Games

  1. Mel

    March 23, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    Oh Anita, that’s such a toughy! I just started the book last night and have not seen the movie nor do I have a child that age so you dont’ have to listen to me, but I think you need to see the movie first to make your decision. If you don’t see the movie, and say no to the kids to see it with the class and then watch it as a family and it turns out ‘not so bad’, you would regret your decision in not letting them go with their class. Go see the movie and then decide. And if you say no, try to stick to your gut. Your gut has been telling you something from the very beginning. Ahhh, I empathize for you though, as I can imagine that that is so tough especially with the A+ paper! Whichever way you decide, you are an amazing mother!

  2. awholelottathings

    March 23, 2012 at 3:11 PM

    I’m going to go watch it tommorow afternoon…i can give my opinion about violence etc. then. I am cautious not to give my opinion of letting my kids watch it since I am not parenting that age of kids. I can give my thoughts…but really they are slightly invalid, just like those who have never had a 2 year old like to tell me how to handle temper tantrums. 🙂

  3. Katherine

    March 23, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    I currently have the book in my bag, haven’t had time to crack open the cover yet. I would like to see the movie but like you not sure if it good for children or teens. Focus on the Family has a good review and it tells you so much about the movie.
    Not sure what else to say….I guess I am not to concerned because Constance is to afraid to watch Horton Hears a Who!!!
    Here is the link that might give you alittle insight on a Christian perspective.

  4. onebabyatatime

    March 23, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    I have neither read the books nor have I seen the movie… the PG 13 rating in Canada is AA14 in the US… considering that the rating usually is to lenient even there I think you can be sure that this movie is all you are afraid it will be.
    will it hurt your children more than other things most kids these days see on tv or in the movies, not sure, is this something that does not need to be clouding the minds of anyone for that matter, absolutely sure..
    I have taken a stand in the past about things like this even if my kids were arguing but our friends, the pastor’s kids, are allowed to see it… just for them to watch it somewhere else like you suggested might happen..
    I am not helping… I know…
    Sorry 😦

  5. mel

    March 24, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    Hi Anita…good for you for broaching this whole issue! I have to say I was disturbed to find out what the content of the books and the movies were about. I have not read them or seen it and I won’t.
    I am no bleeding heart, and yes, I have seen my share of sex, violence and bad language in movies….usually unaware that it is part of the content when I start it.
    However, there is a verse that comes to mind Phil 4: 8…as adults we can “filter” things with judgement and experience. The world, is the world is the world after all…however you have been given a scared trust and duty to guide and rear your children in all things. I like your idea of keeping “control” by renting it later and watching it with them. Great idea! When you fast forward the parts….have a discussion about why! Good for you for being so invested in your kids and your responsiblilites that you take the time to do so much research!
    Let me know how you make out.

  6. Rhonda

    March 24, 2012 at 4:19 PM

    I thought I was the only parent in the world who had no interest in the Hunger Games! Thank you for showing me that I am not alone. Unfortunately for you, I wll not be giving you a review, because my plan is to neither see the movie nor read the books. Fortunately for me, non of my children are interested in the books or the movie–yet. If it turns into curriculum, we will have a big issue, because if this is a book my children do not want to read, then we will not have school forcing them to read or discuss it. I pray that God resolves your dilemma, and look forward to hearing the conclusion.

  7. Sandy Keller

    March 24, 2012 at 7:59 PM

    Wow am I glad my kids are still too young to even know what that is. It doesn’t sound very good. Yes I remember Lord of the Flies and wondering why in the world they school system wanted to fill our young impressionable minds with such low down depraved thoughts. However, I do agree that often the book with our imagination is much more acceptable than a movie. Sounds like you are in a tough spot. I do like your idea of watching at home with control of the remote and ability to discuss… Best wishes on your decisions.

  8. Colette

    March 25, 2012 at 8:33 PM

    Hi Anita! So, I read all three books and went and saw the movie today. Someone passed along the books to me while we were in Ethiopia. I did not realize the popularity of the books and I was shocked that junior high kids(and younger) were reading them in school. I however enjoyed the books, but in my head the tributes in the Hunger games were not young to me(maybe I blocked that out)…..but in the movie they definitely are. I know that in the book and in the movie the tributes were supposed to be between 12-18, but in the movie some of the younger tributes look like they are 8 or 9. One of the big scenes in the movie is when Rue is killed and she definitely looks younger than 12. It’s a pretty graphic scene(she gets shot in the gut with an arrow and she pulls it out with her own hands), but no worse than Lord of the Rings(except for the fact that it’s a 9 year old little girl and not an orc!!!) Barry had not read any of the books and he went to see it with me. He said it was disturbing(and that’s Barry!). He said the ‘kid on kid violence was disturbing’. As far as the rating, I don’t necessarily agree with the PG-13. I think the violence was such(it shows blood, little kids get killed by other little kids, snapping necks, some of the tributes think that the killing really is a game and act accordingly) that it should have been rated R. Now the violence isn’t like Braveheart violence, but enough so that I think the PG-13 is slightly mild. Maybe it got away with PG-13 because there is no nudity, sex or swearing. Hope this helps with your decision. I know it’s a tough one!

  9. Lisa

    March 25, 2012 at 10:32 PM

    Thanks for posting this Anita. I am in the same boat…have no interest in reading the books but two of the kids have and are very interested in the movie. Not sure what to do myself and was just going to sit down at the computer to read reviews!! I will continue to check this for anyone else who has seen it!

  10. Mary Odell

    March 28, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    Hi Anita ~ The Hunger Games books were recently recommended to me by a BA teacher no less but for adult reading. I had it in my mind that I would check into it and possibly download the book on my kindle. After reading your information, I have no interest in it whatsoever and am honestly appalled at the idea of it as a movie. Why do people continue to glamorize what none of us want to happen to our own children?!?! People get upset about the shootings in schools, the need for metal detectors in schools to prevent the violence and then they go and promote it in books and movies! What can really be expected when that type of stuff is put out there for people to absorb! When my kids see a movie about sports, the first thing they want to do is go and play that sport! God knew this would happen and I believe that is why we are admonished to be careful what we allow ourselves to see, hear and so on!!
    You are a good Mom Anita and I appreciate your willingness to stand up for what you believe is right and best for your children.


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